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Cannibalism to Christ

Jason Murfitt explains the ministry the Lord has given them over the last two years among a small group of the Apurina tribe in Brazil.

Imagine you had neither microwave nor cooker, but a small open fire you kept stoked in the corner of your one-room, wallless house, that is nothing more than a raised wooden platform partly covered by a leafy roof. Imagine you had neither fridge nor freezer and you only ate the fish you could catch, a grated root that looks and tastes like sawdust and the occasional bit of monkey or pig. Imagine you had neither a shower nor a washing-machine, and neither soap for your clothes nor for your body. Instead you long for the rain to drink, or walk an hour into the forest to find water in the dry season, then scrub your clothes at the river’s edge. Imagine having no electrical energy at all, no internet, not even light bulbs, when it gets dark, you go to sleep. Welcome to the jungle!

My introduction came in May 2013, having been invited by an American missionary, Brad, who needed me to translate his English into Portuguese, so that the chief could translate me into their indigenous language. I had been to other tribes before and since, but along with that first trip came a ‘call’ from the Lord as he warmed my heart toward the Indians. Straight away I could see their greatest spiritual and practical need.

First, a little history. Until just a few generations ago these Indians had been naked and fearsome cannibals who would hunt by day, with bow and arrow, eat their prey, then gather leaves together under which they would sleep at night. It wasn’t until the mid-1970’s that they first had contact with missionaries. They were still at war with their neighbours and going on killing sprees until the early-1980’s, when two small families, just ten in number, broke away to make a new life for themselves several hours downstream. It is this tribe, that has grown to around 150, that I visit every 2-3 months for two week trips, with Brad doing the same so they are rarely a month without one of our visits. While making disciples, I have had opportunity to hunt monkey in the forest, fish with spears, shoot at crocodiles and flame-throw tarantulas. As well as the strange privilege of informing them that the world is round (they presumed it was square because of the maps of the Amazon that we have hanging in the missionary house), I have also explained to them the concept of gravity, and informed them of the two world wars.

The original missionaries to this group were two women from Wycliffe Bible Translators. They have retired, leaving behind the New Testament, portions of the Old and a hymn book in the tribal language, a brick church building and a small group of true believers. So what is their greatest spiritual and practical need? And how are we seeking to help them? They are surviving, but they are far from thriving. In their forty-year Christian history they have never had pastors, godly leaders who preach the Word of God to the people of God for the glory of God. How would you have fared as a baby Christian, with only portions of God’s Word and no one to teach or to encourage you? It is only by the power and presence of the Spirit of God himself that there are any believers at all. Like nicotine Christians, their spiritual growth has been severely stunted. At present, they are unable to digest biblical meat, whilst at the same time craving many things that threaten their future.

From an early age, we as westerners are taught to sit and listen to stories, analyse information, and evaluate what is going on elsewhere in the world. We study to work, then work to earn money that we spend and save as we plan for tomorrow. These concepts are very new or unknown to our Indian friends. So to teach about the necessity of prayer meetings, tithing, reading the Bible for yourself, considering other’s spiritual needs, how what we do or don’t do each day effects our tomorrows, when so much of their time and effort is invested in mere survival, is a great challenge, often only producing sparse and knotted fruit.

This is why since 2014 I have invested most my time spent among my Indian brethren teaching the leaders, so that they may be qualified to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). One of the preachers is Oscar, who is a hunter and fisherman, the only one they consider officially married in the tribe and father of four young boys. His understanding of biblical truth is limited, his skill in preaching as yet undeveloped, but he is a true brother: dependable, faithful and a backbone to the fellowship. His wife Ana-Lucia, who far exceeds him in spiritual knowledge and maturity, is humble, loving and ideal as his help-meet. She has led the ladies Bible meeting stoically since the missionary ladies retired four years ago. Dominginhos is the other preacher, a natural in the pulpit as his official job is teaching the children and young people their native language, but he is reluctant to study alone and experiences seasons of lukewarmness. Then there is Pedro who doesn’t let the stroke he suffered interfere with leading the meetings. He is our ‘Barnabas’ (son of encouragement). And finally, there is Valdeces (Oscar’s brother) who until last year was addicted to drinking gasoline. Now cured and enthusiastic for Christ, as their new deacon he is the first to arrive and the last to leave the meetings - a prayer warrior and the hardest working among them.

We gather for a leadership meeting on the first and last night of each visit to discuss church matters. Then study together each week day to learn better the art of teaching and preaching. We base the lessons on a sermon guide I have designed on the gospel of Luke, which they use to help them develop their own sermon notes. The ultimate goal is for the saints there to thrive in Christ’s service, and to one day be in a position to train up and send out workers into their corner of God’s tropical mission field.